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Spring 2017

Learning that’s virtually fun

Graceful tropical fish circle around me as a sea turtle glides overhead. Slowly and steadily, hundreds of pink jellyfish swarm from behind and a curious striped creature moves in for a better look at what I assume is my virtual reality headset. In awe, I blindly reach out and it pulls away with alarm. The scene is so realistic I’m speechless.

Don McMahon is laughing. “You look pretty engaged right now,” says the director of the Washington State University Neurodiversity Lab located in the College of Education. “Fun is engaging and engaged students learn,” he’s been intoning, seemingly miles away in the background.

McMahon … » More …

From the top
Spring 2017

From the top

It’s sunrise somewhere on the Appalachian Trail. Ruth Boden is sitting on top of a mountain, playing her cello as she gazes out at a sea of trees. A hiker approaches. “So that’s what I’ve been hearing for the past six miles!” he calls out to her, grinning from ear to ear.

Boden is the cello professor at Washington State University and the founder of Music Outside Four Walls. She is challenging the received wisdom that classical music is played in tuxedos in concert halls with whisper-quiet audiences who’ve paid big bucks for a seat. So she backpacks, with cello, and gives impromptu … » More …

Spring 2017

Paths that grew crystal clear

Crystals reflect the best of nature’s handiwork. With their atoms aligned in repeating 3D patterns, crystals can be as momentary as a snowflake or as common as the sodium chloride in table salt. They can sparkle on a finger, scatter rainbows across the room, or be grown on your kitchen table with a few ingredients from the hobby shop.

Some also possess unusual properties, such as quartz crystal’s ability to generate a tiny electrical current when pressure is applied. Known as the piezoelectric effect, this useful phenomenon helped inspire the rise of a global, multibillion dollar crystal growth industry.

Today, manmade crystals power an astonishing … » More …

Spring 2017

Ends of eras

Yes, Mesa Verde is the richest archaeological preserve in America. A sanctuary of cliff dwellings. Petroglyphs. Thousands of sites holding clues to an ancient civilization. But is it too much to ask for better cell phone reception?

For two days, my wife and I meandered around the park and its environs, climbing with other tourists among the 40 rooms of Balcony House, visiting dozens of kivas—rooms for religious rituals—and walking among striped pieces of broken pottery, or “sherds,” that litter the place. But it wasn’t until we retreated to the park’s Spartan lodgings, also called kivas, that we could tap the wi-fi and fill our … » More …

Spring 2017

Waste not

Someone forgot about the fruit salad. When the refrigerator door opens, the sickly sweet aroma delivers a potent reminder. All the rotting apples, pears, and bananas in the bowl will need to be thrown out, and hopefully composted. It may seem insignificant, but that fruit salad represents a piece of the 40 percent of food wasted in the United States, about 20 pounds per person each month.

In recent years, food waste in this country and many other places around the world has grown not only in volume, but also in the collective consciousness. The numbers are staggering. Americans throw away an estimated $165 billion … » More …

Fall 2013

Water to the Promised Land

As an aquifer declines, farmers hope for water promised 80 years ago.

LAST SUMMER as we stood in the middle of Brad Bailie’s onion fields just north of Connell, the discussion, as discussions seem to do in the Columbia Basin, turned to water.

Bailie ’95 pumps irrigation water from a well drilled down 800 feet. Neighbors have pushed wells down to 2,000 feet. At such depths, the water is often laden with salts and minerals. After a while of irrigating with this water, a crust can form over the soil surface. Farmers must use a variety of means to break up the crust, including … » More …

Winter 2016

Wood Takes Wing

The most complex chemistry lab on the planet is growing in your neighborhood. There might be a tree in your own backyard, cranking out chemicals as it converts sunlight to food, wards off pests, and circulates water and nutrients through it roots, branches, and leaves.

So diverse is the chemical compendium produced by trees that we get aspirin (willow bark is a natural source of salicylic acid and has been used to treat pain since ancient times), the ink Leonardo used in his notebooks (from leaf galls produced by wasp larvae), and natural antibacterials (the fiber in cedar chips is used to make hospital gowns).

» More …

Fall 2016

Till tomorrow

Agricultural research shifts to the LONG game

As David Huggins looks out across the rolling hills of the R.J. Cook Agronomy Farm at Washington State University in Pullman, his enthusiasm about soil is tempered with a sense of urgency about the future of agriculture.

Huggins, a USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist, is keenly aware of the squeeze placed on agriculture by a growing global population in the face of limited resources and a changing climate.

“At no time in the history of the world have we known more about our farming system and our understanding of soil, the atmosphere, and our crops,” … » More …

Fall 2016

What’s new?

Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center

Former WSU President Elson S. Floyd pulled together a group of campus leaders in late 2014 to sketch out a vision of a new kind of building on campus: a place for cultural education and events. Although Floyd died in 2015, the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center, under construction on the corner of Stadium and Main, will be a signature welcome to WSU with a “rolling hills” roof and open design.

Maria de Jesus Dixon, manager of operations for the Cultural Center, believes the center is unique among the nation’s universities and colleges. WSU’s multicultural student population has grown … » More …

Fall 2016

Fat furnace

Body fat has gotten a bad rap in recent years. It’s understandable given that 70 percent of American adults are reportedly overweight or obese, costing $190 billion per year in related medical bills. But new research shows not all fat is created equal.

Washington State University professor of animal sciences Min Du says our bodies are equipped with both good and bad types of fat that naturally work together to balance weight and metabolism. The process—along with a little help from diet and exercise— involves an intricate interplay between white, beige, and brown fat—or adipose tissue.

“When most people think of body fat, they’re … » More …